God is in Control

…who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…
Hebrews 1:3, NKJV

Life is always full of surprises. No one would have planned this year to go the direction it did. Indicators may have suggested certain predictions. Scientists may have theorized. But no one knew what really would transpire, except God. In the midst of life’s difficulties, the anchor of our soul is the hope we have in God (Hebrews 6:19). Not only does He know, He’s in control. Not only is He in control, but He’s working all things for His glory. God’s eternal plan of the ages is being carried out, in triumph, and even in adversity.

Truly, God is in heaven and He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3, NKJV). Our human response to verses like this are often fear, anxiety, and confusion over a possible vengeful, tyrannical God. We must remember, though, our God is constrained by His own nature. He is not like man. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through” (Numbers 23:19, NLT). He is holy and operates like no other ruler. He is love and is motivated in compassion. Yet God is just and requires justice for sin. God who is both love and justice acted the plan of the ages through Christ’s redemption. It was the only plan that would work—because Jesus was sinless, but also because God came to humanity, became a human and became both the just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). What an incredible display of how God rules all things!

In the end of all things, God’s plan of redemption will remain. Justice will be brought to the devil and his actors. Heaven will rejoice and hell will know His judgment. Jesus will reign forever as King to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s consider some of the horrible atrocities in Scripture and how God demonstrated His control and worked all things for His glory.

We can go all the way back to the fall of man. God was still reigning supreme and yet had given dominion to man in the earth. Man sinned and consequences for sin became evident. In the midst of depravity, we find God’s promise for redemption through a human savior in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (NKJV).

The Israelites were enslaved for 400 years under the Egyptians–abuse, neglect, murder, hardship. Generation after generation were caught in this cycle under earthly rulers manipulated by demonic schemes and selfish ambition. Yet God remained in control and used the story of hatred and slavery for His glory and the blessing of a nation.

Esther was faced with an ancient holocaust. God had moved her into a position of influence in the king’s court. Mordecai recognized the sovereignty of God in the midst of the horrible situation. “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NKJV). God’s plan was for deliverance, and He would use a willing person to bring about His plan.

Even in Jesus’ death and resurrection we find that God allowed the very things He abhorred in order for the eternal plan of the ages to be carried out. He gave His only son to be betrayed, brutally beaten, mocked, and murdered in one of the most horrific deaths imaginable. “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18, NLT). Some would say that Jesus’ death was only the work of the devil’s scheme acted out through human players. True the devil was at work. We see this demonstrated in Luke 22:3 when Judas was manipulated by the devil to betray Jesus. Yet in all of it, God was still in control. The plan of redemption was being carried out. No one could take Jesus’ life unless the Father commanded. The devil and human actors in their pride could only see as far as the end of their noses so to speak. They only saw what was happening in front of them and how their plans to murder the savior were being carried out. Even the disciples hid in fear because their conquering king was being killed. But to those with spiritual eyes, there was more happening than just a crucifixion. The blood that was being poured out was the blood to cleanse sinners clean.

Right now, there’s more than meets the eye happening in the world around us. Creation is crying out with birth pangs (Romans 8:22). The revelation of our adoption is at hand. The signs of the coming destruction in Matthew 24 are being acted out in our day. Jesus, thousands of years ago, prophesied about what would be taking place in our time. He knows, and He is in control. That’s why He tells us in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near (NKJV).”

What lesson can we learn from the accounts throughout the ages? What work of God is being completed in us as we yield to His control?

  1. Practice humility

“Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil” (Andrew Murray).

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble” (Andrew Murray).

Humility recognizes that Jesus is the Lord, and I am His redeemed. Humility keeps the proper perspective of Christ glorified, and self crucified. A humble life is a pliable life in the Master Potter’s hands. A prideful life becomes a lump of clay unmoldable only fit for the trash.

James 4:10, NKJV: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Proverbs 22:4, ESV: The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.

 

  1. Be About the Father’s Business

The work of faith in your life are works that glorify the Lord (James 2:17). Salvation’s work is a worshipful display of God’s beauty through good works in your life (Ephesians 2:8-10). While the Master tarries in His return, let us keep watch and preparing for His return (Mark 13:35-37).

“A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart” (Charles Finney).

“Revival comes from heaven when heroic souls enter the conflict determined to win or die-or if need be, to win and die! ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force’” (Charles Finney).

 

  1. Stay in Communion

Fellowship with God ensures you are walking with Him. Like an obedient sheep, we are led by His voice (John 10:27). When walking with our Great Shepherd we are not led astray by cunning and crafty deception. He is the overseer of our lives (1 Peter 2:25). His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

“Each time you intercede, be quiet first and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, of how He delights to hear Christ, of your place in Christ, and expect great things” (Andrew Murray).

“Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue; God’s voice is its most essential part. Listening to God’s voice is the secret of the assurance that He will listen to mine” (Andrew Murray).

 

  1. Stay in Community

The expression of Christ’s body in the earth is the local church. We were made for community. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, NKJV). And in this body we are to support one another (Galatians 6:2) and spur each other on to good works (Hebrews 10:24). In this body we are given gifts of ministers to edify and equip us into maturity, into a unified body (Ephesians 4:11-16).

“If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. …How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The Pursuit of God

My soul follows hard after You; Your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:8

The things we value, the things we are passionate about become our pursuit. Psalms 63, we find the essence of our pursuit of God. The meaning of “follows hard after” in the Hebrew is to cling to or take hold of. We lay hold of God in our passionate pursuit of Him.

Philippians 3:9, The Passion Translation, Paul writes:
My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own “righteousness” based in keeping the written Law. My “righteousness” will be his, based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—the very righteousness that comes from God.

Paul teaches us in Philippians 3 why it is important to follow hard after God:

  1. We follow hard after God to Know Him

Philippians 3:7-8, The Passion Translation
Yet all of the accomplishments that I once took credit for, I’ve now forsaken them and I regard it all as nothing compared to the delight of experiencing Jesus Christ as my Lord! To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that his prayer was for them to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:17-19). There is a difference between having an understanding that God is good and experiencing His goodness in present reality. Hosea writes about this experiential knowledge saying, “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established in the morning; He will come to us like rain, like the latter and the former rain to the earth (Hosea 6:3).” This experiential knowledge was to encounter God not just have an understanding about an attribute of God. In this verse Hosea is describing the presence of the Lord like the rain. He comes to us like the refreshing and soaking rains. He revives us in His presence and brings healing through His living streams of water.

  1. We follow hard after God to demonstrate justification

We have been justified by faith and the evidence of this saving faith is an ongoing pursuit of Christ above all others. We are justified by faith, and it is demonstrated by our pursuit. Good works cannot produce faith, much like a seed cannot produce fruit without water and sun. Once the sun and water affect the seed, fruit is on its way.

Saving grace produces a desire for the pursuit of heavenly things. The work of God in the believer begins a desire for the Word of God and His presence. So often we misdirect our passion and try to pacify eternal longings with temporal fixes. The pursuit of God is the expression of the desire for God awakened by faith.

Philippians 3:9, The Passion Translation
My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own “righteousness” based in keeping the written Law. My “righteousness” will be his, based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—the very righteousness that comes from God.

  1. We follow hard after God to experience His resurrection life

We are yet perfected. The precious work of grace has begun, but is yet to be perfected. Daily I need to drink of His resurrection streams. Daily I need to experience His love. Daily I need to hear His voice. Pursuit of God is laying aside any weight or distraction to know Him and His resurrection.

Philippians 3:12, The Passion Translation
12 I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover.

Paul writes, “I admit that I haven’t yet acquired…” I haven’t arrived. There is still more to know and enjoy and delight in and be changed by. Resurrection life takes off the grave clothes, leaves the cemetery of despair, and walks in newness of life.

  1. We follow hard after God because He has made us His own

Christ Jesus has laid His hand upon you. He has made you His own. What a humbling honor that the creator has taken us out of the pit of this world, clothed us in His righteousness, and has laid His hand of anointing and calling upon us. He has made us kings and priests. He has set us apart for His plans and purposes. In the pursuit of God we discover more of who He has made us to be and more of how He has called us to live.

Philippians 3:12-13, The Passion Translation
12 I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover. 13 I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this;[a] however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead.

What delight in God do you still have to experience? What joy still remains for you? What promise has yet to be obtained? Pursue hard after God and find Him to be all you ever need. The pursuit will not end in broken promises and will not leave you wanting. Embarking the pursuit of God will satisfy every longing and desire. The pursuit of Him was what you were made for!

7 Realities About Suffering

The following is taken from the sermon, “Invincible, Irrefutable Joy: God’s Glory in Human Suffering.”

In the midst of life, we are faced with tragedy, hurt, hang ups, brokenness, loneliness, and suffering of all types. What is the response? What is the hope? How are we to find joy in God in the midst of suffering?

It is true that God’s greatest display of His greatness is redeeming fallen man. If redemption is the greatest display, then God is glorified the greatest in my life when I delight in Him the most. How does joy in God and suffering reconcile? We often think as joy and suffering as opposing agents.

In the midst of World War 2, a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer did much to train and equip pastors and the church during the tragedy of Hitler’s destruction in Germany. In one of his last letters to his seminarian brothers before his execution, Bonhoeffer penned this line: “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.”

Bonhoeffer goes on in the letter to state that, “It [joy] does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.”

Here 7 Realities to Find God’s Invincible, Irrefutable Joy:

  1. Suffering Comes in Many Ways

In fact, the Bible guarantees suffering. Throughout Scripture we see that troubles, persecution, trials—suffering will come. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trials will come, but in them all, God is our deliverer. Psalm 34:19, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”

  1. Suffering is to Happen within our Christian Community

Galatians 6:2 instructs us to “Bear one another’s burdens…,” and Hebrews 10:24 says to, “watch out for one another…” The Royal Law (James 2:8) written on our hearts results in a demonstration of compassion and care for our brothers and sisters. We were created to do life in God’s presence in the Body of Christ. The reality is that we need Him, and we need Him in the context of our spiritual family. We sharpen one another, and we provoke one another to good works.

  1. Suffering is Actually a Gift

In Philippians 1:29, Paul writes, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”  Wait! What?! We have been given the gift of faith to believe in Christ, and also, we have been given the gift of suffering for His sake. I am certain we do not always consider our present trials and troubles a gift. Paul had experienced many troubles for the Gospel, and He considered each of them a gift, knowing that “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Phil 1:12).” Knowing troubles are assured, and knowing they bring deeper delight in God, and knowing they are opportunities for the furtherance of the gospel, then let us prepare to suffer with even greater joy and even greater determination in the gospel demonstration. The gift of suffering perfects us and advances the gospel as we find our invincible, irrefutable joy in God. When facing troubles, know it is another opportunity to discover deeper delight in sweetness of our Savior.

  1. The Suffering Savior is our Example

Jesus, our Great Shepherd leads us along the journey through the mountains of triumph and the valleys of shadows and death. Whether in life or death I am more than victorious in Christ. “…So now also Christ will be magnified in my body whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21).” In other words, I’m satisfied, and He is glorified whether I live or I die.

Jesus is our example in suffering: Hebrews 12:2: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross”

Jesus is our example in temptation: Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus is our example in sickness and death: John 11:35, 40: “Jesus wept. Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’”

Jesus is our example in persecution: 1 Peter 2:21-23: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

  1. The Work of Suffering

Trials and troubles are a gift, and Jesus is our example of finding invincible, irrefutable joy in God through the suffering. As we delight in God, suffering has its work in our lives. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).” Command yourself to be in a place of joy. Refuse to live anywhere else, except the place of absolute invincible, irrefutable joy in God. It is in this place in God where perseverance is working its work of completion in you. A life delighting in God, no matter the landscape or season, can be found to be a life in which perseverance can have its way.

  1. The Secret to Enjoying the Sweetness of the Savior in Suffering

Paul writes in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” What was Paul’s secret to “knowing how to be” in all these circumstances? He tells us in Philippians 3:8, “Yet indeed I also count all things for loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” And in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We learn to discover the Savior’s sweetness when we can count anything outside of Christ as loss. Our difficulty is that we often hold things more valuable and of higher priority than Christ. Whether tangible things, or our own imaginations and ideas, we esteem them more highly than Jesus, and when trouble comes our value is shaken because what we hold dear has been shaken. To the one who has lost it all, yet has found the value of Jesus, has found something greater than any loss or suffering. To the one who has it all, yet has found the value of Jesus, has found the pearl of great price, worth selling all to have. I can walk thru any adversity with His joy, because His joy is my strength (Neh 8:10)!

  1. My Redeemer Lives!

As Job declared in the midst of adversity, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26).” No matter the loss, even to my skin wasting away as dust to dust in the ground, there will be a day when I see God in my flesh. As the old song says, “my faith shall be sight.” What I have known, and enjoyed, and found joy in will continue throughout the eternal ages. I have strength in this life, and I have a hope in eternal life!

When God Presses In

You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. Psalm 139:5, GNT

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5, ESV

What happens when God presses in upon you? What does life look like when the hand of God is upon you and He encircles you? The word picture here reminds me of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. Their enemy was behind them, the red sea in front of them. There were millions of people ready to be slaughtered by the Egyptian army. They were like helpless sheep waiting to be slaughtered by a prevailing army. God was pressing in upon the Israelites.

Some may view this as certain doom and despair, but God saw this as an opportunity for His glory to be shown in the earth and lives to be transformed. God encircled round about the Israelites. His fire protected them, and the breath of life parted the Red Sea. In His goodness He even dried up on the ground the Israelites would walk on so they would not sink in the mud.

The Lord, the Victorious one has gone before you. He stands as your rear guard and He leads onward as the conquering King. He has hemmed you in and has laid His hand upon you. What will you do now? Will you quit and give up at the first sign of trouble? Will you return to the Egyptian army hoping they will not slaughter you as they had been sent to do? Will you go back to the way things used to be, hoping for some sort of peace in slavery? Or like Moses and the millions of Israelites, will you move forward, deeper into the greater things of God?

God has even ensured that you will not sink into despair along the journey. The muddy path had become dry ground. Walking in God’s grace makes muddy paths become dry. He leads you into paths of righteousness. He places you on His highway of holiness. To turn to the right or to the left will guarantee quick sand in which you will surely sink into despair. But to remain on His path with His Word as your light and your direction, you cannot fail.

When God presses in upon you, in the natural you may see chaos and uncertainty; however, God sees provision, blessing, and growth. Your God-given assignment is only validated by the pressure. As wheat is threshed under great pressure, God separates the chaff from the wheat in your life through the weight of His hand upon you. Just as the olives are pressed for the abundance of oil to flow, God lays His hand upon you to press out what is within you.

It is during these moments we realize what inadequacies we have. As God encircles us we see His greatness and our lack, our vulnerability, our need. We see the uncrossable sea and the fierce army. God sees His power to deliver. God sees His promise being fulfilled. God is certain of His ability to do what He has promised in your life. He will use the enemy to bring about His plan. He used the Egyptian army to apply pressure. He used the army to reveal His power. He used the army to reveal the heart of man. He used the army to drive the Israelites forward. And when He was finished with the enemy, He brought down the waters of judgment upon them. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of God’s judgment. But, oh how wonderful it is to be in the hands of God’s grace. He has encircled me and laid His hand of grace and power upon me!

Jesus spoke of these wonderful hands. John 10:28: “No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Paul said it like this in Romans 8:31, 35: “If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

In the natural you may see the problem, but through the eyes of faith you will see His power upon you. It is foolish to kick against the goads. Saul learned the great lesson of God’s hemming when God’s glory shone about him, knocked him to the ground, and changed His life.

In what ways might God be hemming you in? Like the caterpillar, the hemming brings about a change to great beauty. Learn to rest in God’s sovereign hand. When the pressure comes, don’t resist His hand, but yield and rest in His power upon you. God is ‘round about you, and He has placed His hand upon you. Yield to God’s unchanging hand! Certainly, He will deliver you. Certainly, He has brought you to a place of victory. If you could only see what’s awaiting you on the other side of the Red Sea!

There’s an old song written in 1906 by Jennie Wilson that captures the eternal, unchanging nature of God’s hand upon you:

Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.

Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures,
They will never pass away.

When your journey is completed,
If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view

Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Advent and Why We Celebrate

Advent and Why We Celebrate

The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming, which comes from the Greek word parousia.

In the fourth and fifth centuries, Advent was a season of preparation for the celebration of Epiphany, a festival on January 6, commemorating God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to Jesus, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana. During the Advent season, Christians would spend 40 days in prayer, repentance, and fasting for the coming of Epiphany; originally, Advent was little connected to Christmas.

By the sixth century, Roman Christians tied Advent to the coming of Christ—but not His coming in a manger. Advent became a celebration of Christ’s second coming. It was during the Middle Ages that Advent was linked to Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem.

Today, Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The new Christian year begins with a 12-day celebration from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6.

The Church in these last days is much like the Israelites at the end of the Old Testament. We find ourselves, as it were, in exile in a foreign land, waiting with eager expectation of Christ’s second coming.

Advent combines the elements of remembrance and anticipation. We reflect and remember and we anticipate His second coming. To balance these elements, the first two Sundays of Advent look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays look backward to remember Christ’s first coming.

Though it may be challenging to keep in mind in the midst of holiday decorating and shopping, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting and reflection. One catechism describes Advent in this way: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming.”

Advent celebrates Christ’s coming as Emmanuel, God with us! Advent celebrates God’s coming in Acts 2 at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Advent celebrates and anticipates Christ’s soon return.

The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the four white candles were lit on Sundays. Eventually, the Advent wreath was created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and eternal life in Christ.

The most common Advent tradition involves four or five candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas and the fifth on Christmas Eve. We often think of Christmas colors of red, green, silver, and gold. However, these are not the common Advent celebration colors. Three of the four candles are purple or violet representing royalty and repentance. These three candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays. The third Sunday candle is pink, representing the joy of Advent. The fifth, a white candle, is lit on Christmas Eve, representing the purity and holiness of Christ and His birth. Oftentimes, the first candle is used to remind us of God’s creation and the forgiveness granted at the garden. The second candle reminds us of God’s incarnation. The third, represents the joy found in God’s covenant with David of an eternal seed and redemption from sin. The fourth, represents the second coming of Christ.

Why should believers make the Advent festival a family and church priority?

  1. Advent reminds us we are not the center of God’s plan

We are reminded throughout Scripture of God’s eternal plan. Romans 5:8 reminds us that while we were still sinners, enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us. Revelation unfolds the eternal portrait of redemption. Hebrews declares the mystery and revelation of this eternal plan throughout the ages. Continually we are reminded that we are included in this eternal plan, and are benefactors of it, but we are certainly not the main characters in the story.

  1. Advent reminds us of those who have gone before us

Hebrews 11 reminds us of the faith of many of those who have gone before us who by faith obtained a good testimony, but their faith is connected to ours (Heb 11:40). Many generations awaited the Messiah’s first coming. They endured hardships, were pilgrims in exile, were persecuted. Advent reminds us of their faith and humbles us to see God’s plan of the ages unfolding. We are reminded to endure with longsuffering in an evil age.

  1. Advent reminds us to reflect

In the hustles and bustle of holidays, we are reminded to slow down, remember and celebrate. The end of the year is not about gift giving and decorations, but so much more. We remember the ages of prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. We remember the covenant of God with David for an eternal seed. We remember the generations that awaited the Messiah’s appearing. We remember Simeon and Anna who eagerly awaited the Messiah in the temple. We remember Christ’s coming in a manger and that God came into His creation. We remember Christ’s ministry on earth and His heavenly ministry today. We remember the prophecies concerning Christ’s second coming. We remember who He has called us to be.

  1. Advent reminds us of Christian discontentment

Christ’s coming, crucifixion, and resurrection would have been enough—more than enough, but He gives so much more and calls us to hunger and thirst after Him. It is our blessing to cultivate and nurture our desire for Him. There is a longing in our hearts for His second coming. There is a longing for Him to reveal Himself to us in Scripture and in our worship. Creation is groaning for this revelation (Ro 8:23). The martyrs cry out, “how long, O Lord” (Rev 6:10). Jesus blessed hunger and thirsting for righteousness in the beatitudes. Advent encourages our holy discontentment.

  1. Advent encourages us in the promises of God

As we reflect on God’s promises and His answers of the past, we are able to have great anticipation for what He will do ahead of us. We have confidence in His promise of His soon return and thus we are inspired to evangelize, to continue on in our fellowship together and brotherly love, and willing to endure suffering with great joy. Advent reminds us that as God has met many others in the unfolding of His eternal plan, He also will meet us today. He truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)

Unprecedented Days

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I’m excited to announce that this new book will be released December 1, 2018.

Unprecedented Days: 90 Days of Fire is a book that will transform your Christianity to a full pursuit of Christ and life beyond the veil. The profound insights of this book are combined with quotes from others who pave the journey of spiritual awakening. Everyday fuel the fire of your passion with a fresh word of encouragement and revelation. Whether the words are challenging or up lifting, they will add depth and riches in your spiritual journey.

Pre-Sales of the book will be available soon. Be looking for the online order options and book release party information.

Special thanks to Mt. Zion Ridge Press for publishing this book!

 

Just Relax

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers–most of which are never even seen–don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Matthew 6:30-33, The Message

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a stressful situation and wondered how you got there? Even worse–worried about how you were going to get out? Maybe there was a time when your young child was stressed out and as the parent you realized the situation would quickly change and there was no need for the drama.

I love how The Message Bible phrases Jesus’ words here: What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax. We have a saying we use frequently: Just Drink. In other words–just chill. Just relax and have a big drink of God’s River of Living Water. Living Water will change your stress into joy! Like the parent above, we comfort the child and say, just relax; it’s going to be okay.

After all, stress and anxiety stem from our need to get something. We are stressed about someone not meeting our expectations. We are stressed because we spent more than our income. We are anxious over what the doctor might say. These are all things we are receiving or not receiving that cause stress. We worry about what we are getting.

Why not turn loose of the worry about getting and have joy in giving? Jesus wants us to stop worrying about our getting and be occupied with God’s giving. What is God trying to get into my life? What do I need to turn loose of in order to receive what God is giving? God’s giving is sow and you reap; give and it will be given. If you find yourself stressed about the doctor’s report, go and sow joy into someone else. If you find yourself battling loneliness, go and be a friend to another. Anxious about your finances–give an offering.

A while back I did an illustration with an apple. We know when eating an apple we do not eat the seeds of the apple. When we cut the apple, we immediately find the seeds and remove them so they are not eaten. Our income is the same. When God gives–we look for the seed. When our receiving becomes a giving, we move from worry about what we are getting to joy in God’s giving.

God has your everyday human concerns handled. This reminds me of someone going into work to do a job they have not been assigned to do. It’s like someone that is a bookkeeper trying to do the janitor’s job. The bookkeeper can be stressed out and anxious about the cobwebs in the building, but they are worried about something outside of their responsibilities. The boss in this organization would remind the bookkeeper that they are concerned about something that they have no control over. We often try to do God’s job when we have no control over Him or His responsibilities. He says our job is to seek first His Kingdom. The rest is up to Him.

Are you worried and anxious because you want something that God is not giving? Are you driven by a need to get and God is trying to give something greater? Maybe you are anxious about what God is giving and you would rather hang on to what you already have.

The more you saturate, or as The Message says, steep, your life in God, the more you walk in His reality, His provision, His vision. It is easier to trust Him when your life is full of Him. It is less stressful when God is the center focus–not the fear over what you are getting or not getting in this life. God has clothed the wildflowers of the field in splendor; He will certainly take care of me! Just relax! He’s got you covered!

 

Regeneration

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:3, NKJV

This is a word we do not commonly hear these days. Regeneration is defined as being reborn or formed again. Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains regeneration as follows:

This word literally means a “new birth.” The Greek word so rendered (palingenesia) is used by classical writers with reference to the changes produced by the return of spring. In Matthew 19:28 the word is equivalent to the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21). It denotes that change of heart elsewhere spoken of as a passing from death to life; becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus; being born again; a renewal of the mind; a resurrection from the dead; a being quickened. This change is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. It originates not with man but with God. As to the nature of the change, it consists in the implanting of a new principle or disposition in the soul; the impartation of spiritual life to those who are by nature “dead in trespasses and sins.” The necessity of such a change is emphatically affirmed in Scripture.

Here in John 3, Jesus describes regeneration as being born again. The instruction to Nicodemus was not something that could be accomplished through his efforts in studying the law or through good works. Nicodemus could not be regenerated by being in a dignified, prestigious religious office. Regeneration occurs only as a work of the Spirit of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6, NKJV)

This is the life of God at work in the soul of man. As we repent, we are made new. Redemption’s effect is this work of regeneration. This is more than turning over a new leaf or endeavoring to be a better you. Regeneration is a complete overhaul of what was. What was once dead is now alive. The sin that was once acceptable is now detestable. The enjoyment of divine things surpasses the hobbies and interests of this life. That which is godly and honorable are now delightful and pleasing attributes.

The sin that held your conscience captive for so long is erased and the skeletons in the closet of your mind are removed. The Spirit of God transforms you finally and forever. His work is complete and permanent.

Regeneration makes Christ and His work appealing and attractive. Nicodemus was a ruler in the church, and should not be associated with Jesus’ ministry. Regeneration changed His life and changed His desires. The same man who should not associate with Christ was found burying Him after the crucifixion. He brought 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint the dead body of Jesus and prepare Him for burial. What changed in Nicodemus? What made him go from a man that sought Christ in the secrecy and cover of the night hour to one who would publicly remove the body of Jesus from the cross and care for the mutilated remains? Regeneration! The words of Jesus echoed clearly that day as Nicodemus anointed that precious body for burial. Nicodemus, unless a man is born again. Nicodemus, I am the resurrection and the life. As you anoint my body for burial, this body will not remain in the grave. Just as those who come to me, they will be born again. Though they may appear to be dead, I will make them live!

It is time to allow the anointing of Christ to come upon you that you may live. The regenerating power of God can flow through your life and make you come alive—really alive. Christ is the King who makes all things new. If He can regenerate the lost person, He can certainly quicken you. If you are saddened or discouraged, His anointing power can awaken you. The one who came out of the tomb can bring breakthrough in your life. Like Nicodemus, go to Him at the cross and let the power of Gethsemane’s hill flow into you. Run quickly with Nicodemus to the garden tomb where Christ’s body was laid, and see the resurrection life that can flow into you. Behold Christ today and He will bring life into your weary world!

 

Revive Me

Revive me, O Lord, for Your name’s sake! For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.
Psalm 143:11

Life is filled with trouble. The word used by David for trouble means distress or trouble; sorrow, pain, anguish. David faced the troubles of life. His leader turned on him and tried to kill him. People he trusted left him. His own family tried to defame him. Sin always invites distress. The consequences of sin are sure to find us out–whether by our own sin, the sin of others, or the sin of this world. Sin will always come around and bite us. The words of the snake may be enticing, but they are filled with venom.

If you have suffered the effects of sin, this verse offers hope: Revive Me! David was asking God to sustain his life; to quicken his life in order that he may live. At times the effects of sin may weary you to the point of depression and a desire to no longer live. The effects of sin may take away your strength, your ambition or zeal. But in the midst of his agony, David cried to the Lord for life! This is supernatural life. It is the God-kind of life given by the work of His presence. It’s the life of God in the soul man. Romans 8:11 tells us that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead will quicken us.

Is the Spirit of God living in you? Have you become the temple of the Holy Spirit. If He has taken up residence within you, you have the same person that brought the crucified Christ out of His grave. The same Spirit that quickened Lazarus is in you. The same Spirit that raised the widow’s son is in you. The same Spirit that raised the Shunammite’s son is living in you. And if He is in you, He can revive you to new life.

God will work this miracle in you based not on your merit, but according to His name. David said, “for your name’s sake!” Translated from Hebrew, David is saying, “according to or for the purpose of your reputation or glory” quicken or revive me. It is the desire of God to revive you, not by the works of your own righteousness that is like dirty laundry, but according to His righteousness and fame which is perfect and holy. His motive in reviving you is pure, without manipulation or ulterior motives. He is not demanding a hidden agreement; there is no fine print to read. God desires that you be revived according to his righteousness for His own glory.

What a divine picture! God desires you to be quickened and full of life that His glory might be put on display for others to see. You are a living epistle. You are God’s masterpiece. He has displayed you for the world to see His work in you. You are incapable of reviving yourself. No person when they are dying are able to administer resuscitation on themselves. We must have the hand of God massage our heart to life and breathe life into our nostrils.

Lord, revive me! I do not know what others may decide. I do not know how others may respond to my new life. All I know is that I am dying without you. For your glory and my enjoyment, will you come?! The same Spirit that regenerated me at salvation can renew the joy of my salvation. The same Spirit that made me alive to Christ, can sustain and quicken this divine life I am living. Have the troubles of life got you down? Christ can raise you up and quicken you to new life!

Night of Hope

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God
Acts 16:25, NKJV

Can you imagine being beaten and imprisoned for no crime other than being used of God to set a demon possessed person free? Paul and Silas were completely innocent of a crime, but completely guilty of loving the hurting and the broken.

Three years ago, our church launched an outreach called Night of Hope. We were asking God to give us a vision to reach our community in a unique way. Much like Paul and Silas, this ministry has come to people often at their darkest hour. We have the privilege of loving those who feel as though they are in bondage or are broken by life’s hang ups and hurts.

For three years we have given away groceries, hot meals, haircuts, spa treatments, medical screenings, chiropractor adjustments, vaccinations, resources and community assistance. Nearly 100,000 meals have been served. But beyond the tangible ministry, the Gospel has been preached and demonstrated. We have walked with families through death, drug addiction, financial hardship, and salvation.

What had become the midnight hour for Paul and Silas came as the result of bringing the radiance of the Son into a darkened life. Here was a woman bound to her masters and bound to a demon. The fortune telling woman encountered God. In one moment, the brightness of God’s glory invaded her life and liberated her from bondage. It was that miracle that brought Paul and Silas to the prison. But at midnight—in their darkness—they were able to sing out songs of praise because they trusted in God. They had seen His power liberate the demoniac, and they knew that His same power could liberate them from their prison walls.

Are you afflicted today in bondage and brokenness? Has hardship overcome you in this life? Have you seen the spiritual condition in which you lay helpless? The light of God’s glory can liberate you from all oppression! Are you a friend of God discouraged by circumstance? Have you come into a dark place because of your good works? Do you, like Lazarus, feel you have given all for your friend Jesus, and yet He has allowed you to die? Be encouraged! Jesus is on His way to your tomb. Be edified! The resurrection life that liberated the demoniac has come to liberate you.

You can look at your night and say this is a place of hope. Others may have prospered from this woman’s fortune telling, but what had been sown in darkness would now be reaped in everlasting life. God took her out of her night, and brought her into His marvelous light that she might proclaim His wonderful works. God delivered Paul and Silas out of their night and into the light of His joy.

God brought hope to Paul and Silas, and He brought hope to the prison jailer. In the midst of Paul and Silas’s night of beating, torment, and imprisonment God used them to bring salvation to the jailer and his family. In just a matter of hours they witnessed the power of God set the demoniac free, save the jailer, and save the jailer’s family. God delivered the tormented, the tortured, and the trembling persons. He brought hope in the midst of hardship. He will do the same for you! Today might be your Night of Hope!